Author Topic: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion  (Read 3533 times)

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Michel.R.E

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Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« on: January 08, 2016, 01:50:58 PM »
I'd like you to contrast this work, also the final utterance of its creator (in this case, Rachmaninov) with our other excerpt, which most of you have by now identified as Samuel Barber's "Canzona", the slow movement of an unfinished oboe concerto.
It's tonal, very "Romantic", as one would expect from Rachmaninov.
But how much more is there to learn from this piece?

https://youtu.be/rRd13JJukbk?t=11m30s

Slowly but surely, the Symphonic Dances are being acknowledged as one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century. It is both a dream and a nightmare for conductors - considered a work that should only be tackled in a conductor's maturity.

But why is this?

Move past the seemingly "retrograde" harmony (to use a dismissive term popular with the avant-garde) and find what it is that is great about this work.

Speaking for myself, every time I hear this work I discover new things, I understand it more fully, and I find it more and more fulfilling both emotionally and intellectually.

There's something reassuringly familiar about the piece, something firmly rooted in tradition.
And at the same time, there is a uniqueness, a "newness" to it that goes beyond simply shocking harmony or twisted melody.

« Last Edit: January 08, 2016, 01:52:55 PM by Michel.R.E »
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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winknotes

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2016, 05:02:17 PM »
In light of conducting it the first thing I notice is how fluid it is in terms of tempo and dynamics.  The overall expressive quality is very high which would make it a challenge to conduct.  It's a good reminder to myself to not be lazy about marking my own pieces for dynamics and articulations and tempo changes, etc.  Even though with technology we have that makes it easier to realize it's tedious and requires a lot of thought and effort and laziness is the only way I can think of to describe why I DON'T do that more.

Many times he takes us to the virge of a climax only to reduce the orchestration to a 3 or 4 woodwinds until finally 45 seconds or so from the end we get the full orchestra which then quickly winds down to pizz strings and woodwinds. 

On a side note this is the second youtube video I've seen in the last couple of days where the conductor doesn't use a baton.  Just kind of unusual to see for instrumental conducting.   

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sandalwood

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2016, 07:08:16 PM »
I have always been awed by this piece. It makes me think it has all the world in it, like Mahler used to say about some of his works. My favorite and fascination is the first mvt: for me a sophisticated aural feast in melodies, orchestration and colors and in refinement and nuance: purebred Rachmaninov and more.  This, I feel, is also  the most Russian of all mvts. [coincidentally I am currently working on a piece (yet only less than a minute into it)with the principal theme inspired by a theme in this mvt] . I also feel the music becomes more programmatic as the mvts progress. I would love reading opinions on the work and how it contrasts to the Canzonetta.

I don't know what the modernists meant calling his harmony "retrograde" but I believe it is quite an involved one quite distant from the CPP. :)

« Last Edit: January 11, 2016, 07:14:33 AM by sandalwood »

winknotes

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2016, 08:41:39 AM »
I have to admit I don't get this piece.  To me it sounds like a light kind of "pops" piece and not necessarily meant to be intellectually stimulating.  But I think I'm being short-sighted.  It is beautifully orchestrated and the colors he achieves appeal to me for sure. 

Could someone point me in the right direction? 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2016, 09:35:58 AM »
To me it sounds like a light kind of "pops" piece and not necessarily meant to be intellectually stimulating.

This is a very loaded comment.
But it's also one that forces us to discuss an important issue in our perception of music.

So to address specifically your comment (I will not "argue against it" or try to dissuade you):

1) what aspect of it gives you this impression?
 - the harmony?
 - the melody?
 - the harmonic language/esthetic?

2) what exactly creates this "intellectual stimulation"?
 - the harmony?
 - the melody?
 - the harmonic language/esthetic?

3) Would you consider an item like Beethoven's 5th or 9th to be "light pops" pieces?
Question 3 is important because it situates your initial assessment in relation to other works.

4) how important is "intellectual stimulation" to the appreciation of a work of art?

5) does the perceived lack of intellectual stimulation have to do with the esthetic of the music? (musical/harmonic language)
if so, does this translate to all works in a similar musical esthetic?

I'll hold back a bit from making my own views on this particular topic known. It's a topic that comes up often with younger composition students, particularly those who are discovering "advanced" compositional techniques but not fully grasping them yet.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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winknotes

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2016, 11:32:55 AM »
To me it sounds like a light kind of "pops" piece and not necessarily meant to be intellectually stimulating.

This is a very loaded comment.
But it's also one that forces us to discuss an important issue in our perception of music.

So to address specifically your comment (I will not "argue against it" or try to dissuade you):

1) what aspect of it gives you this impression?
 - the harmony?
 - the melody?
 - the harmonic language/esthetic?

It's the aesthetic I believe.  I'm probably not being fair because harmonically it's more complicated than Beethoven but to me the harmonies and the waltz style make it sound to me like a piece from a musical.  The more I listen to it I actually think of Sondheim (who I love btw). 

2) what exactly creates this "intellectual stimulation"?
 - the harmony?
 - the melody?
 - the harmonic language/esthetic?

Aesthetic.

3) Would you consider an item like Beethoven's 5th or 9th to be "light pops" pieces?
Question 3 is important because it situates your initial assessment in relation to other works.

No.  I say this because Beethoven is clear about his ideas and develops them in a logical manner. 

4) how important is "intellectual stimulation" to the appreciation of a work of art? 

I suppose it's not mandatory but speaking for myself I'm attracted to art that makes me think and keep coming back to it to look or listen to it again to think about it some more or verify something I thought while I was away. 

5) does the perceived lack of intellectual stimulation have to do with the esthetic of the music? (musical/harmonic language)
if so, does this translate to all works in a similar musical esthetic?

I suppose it would translate to similar musical aesthetics. 

Thank you for making me think about these things even if I endure some public humiliation :)   Seriously I'm starting to realize my listening and musical understanding is pretty shallow.  I may also be stuck thinking about and listening to composers and pieces I already know. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2016, 11:59:55 AM »
Steve, the very LAST thing I'd want is for you to feel embarrassed or humiliated in any way. :'(

To be perfectly frank, many arguments around the "validity" of certain musical esthetics in relation to others has been a very important part of my musical development. And it's something I've struggled with for decades now.

I was first taught by hyper avant-garde disciples of Pierre Boulez and Stockhausen. For them, esthetic was the primary consideration in any new music... in the sense that if it was tonal it was bad. if it was non-tonal it COULD be good... but only if THEY considered the analytical side of it worthy.

It was a very dogmatic and close-minded approach to music that denied completely the involvement of the audience in the experience. Any music that could even remotely be considered as "audience pleasing" was frowned upon if not actively attacked.

This was in large part due to Boulez' philosophy on the value of experimentation and the vague "newness" concept. It had to conform to Boulez' (and his acolytes') definition of "new music".

The irony of it was these composers were relying on serialism as the barometer against which everything was measured... a serialism that was already pretty long in the tooth at that point in time.

For each composer, there comes a time where (s)he has to decide whether experimentation is more important than the creation of communicative and expressive music that speaks to its audience.
This doesn't mean that a composer has to speak down to the audience. There are many "challenging" works that remain audience favourites.

Speaking for myself, I find that most of the "new music" that I hear these days sounds like it could easily have been written in the 1920's. If a century's experimentation has lead to music that still sounds nearly 100 years old, then has it actually lead to any sort of "development" or "evolution" of the art?
Has the experiment lead to a greater connection with the audience? or a disconnect from that audience?
Has Schönberg's desire that people "whistle his melodies" come true? has atonality truly supplanted tonality in all its forms as "the people's music"?

Anyway, lots of questions there. Lots of rambling on my part as well.

I honestly don't care if someone wants to spend all their time experimenting. I don't really see anything wrong with that. Where I draw a line in the sand is when those very same experimenters try to decide whose music is "acceptably modern" and whose isn't.

And this all leads back to Rachmaninov... The Symphonic Dances have a form that is incredibly subtle and complex, with thematic fragments that are developed, interwoven, and modified to create the structure. The architecture is in and of itself decided by the musical material. The harmony is surprisingly akin to that of Prokoviev, the precise approach to the harmony differing in minor details, but chromatic shifts, borrowings from distant keys, cadences avoided in an unorthodox manner, melodic notes that push the boundaries of whatever tonal zone happens to be active. All part of how both composers handled their music.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

winknotes

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2016, 06:44:26 PM »
I think I've mentioned this before but I had a similar experience in undergraduate studies.  That is to say my teacher, although not a serialist, taught in such a way that I completely misunderstood many things such as basic form, I developed habits of being too detailed so that everything was always changing thereby not really learning good development techniques.  I've spent years "undoing" what was done in college and that was quite a long time ago. 

So with a piece like this I'm afraid I was hasty and reverting back to what I was taught rather than listening more carefully.  So with that I downloaded the piano reduction of this piece from ISLMP so I can concentrate on the harmonies and melodic development more easily. 

So far it defies traditional analysis to be sure and the orchestration certainly masks some of the harshness of the chords when simply played on the piano.  I like your comparison to Prokofiev.  I'll certainly look for that. 
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Ron

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2016, 05:54:49 AM »
I was fortunate in that, though my teacher was a serialist, she supported and encouraged me to go in my own direction.
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winknotes

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2016, 12:34:40 PM »
So I've listened to the entire piece and I have to say in context that movement is very nice.  I do find the outer two movements more intriguing but I actually like all of them quite a bit.

Now I'm trying to think of something relevant to get back to the initial point. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2016, 12:45:04 PM »
Steve, I'm glad you were able to take a step back and look at this work with fresh eyes.
I had chosen the middle movement as the corollary to the Barber discussion because of a subtle similarity in style and material.

As for me, the entire work (all three "dances") is the most satisfying way of listening to it. Each movement is beautiful, but as a "whole" it is mind-blowingly astounding.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

sandalwood

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Re: Corollary to January 2016 excerpt discussion
« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2016, 11:49:59 AM »
Two brief notes on Rachmaninov and Symphonic Dances: One is a quote from 'conductor, solo pianist, chamber musician, and accompanist, Vladimir Ashkenazy who has performed and recorded virtually every note that Rachmaninoff ever wrote. In these capacities, he has observed close hand the extent to which Rachmaninoff’s music actually changed from the 1890s to the 1940s':

"I think his development as a composer and as an individual was
quite spectacular. You wouldn’t really recognize the Rachmaninoff
of the Symphonic Dances from the naive Rachmaninoff of the
early piano pieces, the opera Aleko and the First Symphony. If I
didn’t know that the early piano works were by Rachmaninoff,
they could almost be by any Russian composer of that period –
such as Cui or Liadov. But the gift he had was greater than he
himself thought. Those early works are like a bud that was to
blossom later on. If you look at The Bells [1913]or the Third Piano
Concerto [1909], he was a different person...[and likewise], The
difference between the Third Piano Concerto and the Symphonic
Dances [1940] is tremendous. His last pieces have a different
hue...The inventiveness is still there...but...there is a dark hue...in
such works as the Corelli Variations, the Paganini Rhapsody or the
Third Symphony. I have just finished recording Rachmninoff’s
piano transcriptions, including the Tchaikovsky Lullaby, which
was Rachmaninoff’s last work. There is an incredibly dark hue
here – harmonies that Tchaikovsky would never have dreamed of,
fantastic harmonies."

The other is on Symphonic Dances; a few sentences from a PhD on 3 of his works:

"in Op. 45, unity is provided not by a large-scale
composing-out of a tonic nor even by shared thematic material, but by inter-movement
manipulation of a highly chromatic, distinctly non-tonical motivic chord group. Because
the motivic chords are stated plainly at the start of the opus, in a C minor context that
scarcely accommodates them tonally, one might say that a certain amount of
hyperdissonance is loaded into the work from the very start...The chords provide raw chromatic material that
Rachmaninoff works into a variety of contexts...

the passage in...features an unyielding layer of tonic triads on the very bottom, functional resolutions to
those tonics in the middle, and, on top, an increasingly tense chromatic harmonization of a Phrygian ascent...

a gradual unfolding through the first two movements leading to an acme in the third movement,
where octatonic, hexatonic, and Phrygian structures—all suggested by the motivic chord group—are
brought together."

He details how the work "tonally" develops as an alternation/intermingling/hybridization of octatonic/hexatonic/Phrygian contexts/structures/idioms.The dissertation in several hundred pages tries to explain a harmonic plot that seems to be fiendishly complicated. Then, there are the thematic, etc aspects.

« Last Edit: March 05, 2016, 11:51:36 AM by sandalwood »